This week we're starting south from Town Point in Norfolk.
The Commodore Says: "There's nothing so helpful as local knowledge." In our case, local knowledge includes our trusty copy of Skipper Bob's Anchorages Along the ICW, and the Waterway Guide Altantic ICW. And http://cruisersnet.net. And all the random salts we meet along the way.
Local Knowledge doesn't include the weather. But it often includes on advice on how to cope with it.
First day on the ICW. We did our first ever lift bridge opening and our first ever canal transit. We were so excited.
Note to self: the Gilmerton Bridge doesn't open until 0930. There's no earthly reason to leave Norfolk before 0830. Even if you are excited.
Also, the Deep Creek lock for the Great Dismal Swamp canal doesn't open until 11:00; we had about 90 minutes to make a three mile run to the lock. Hurrying isn't a good idea. Since the canal is narrow, you will wind up in a single file. It's painful to keep the boat in position for 45 minutes waiting for the lock.
Once through the lock, we were part of a parade of boats through the swamp. The lead boat for our parade made a stately 6.0 mph (the ICW is measured in statute miles, not nautical miles).
Started 36°50.63′N 076°17.51′W
Motored to 36°26.65′N 076°19.59′W
Time: 8 hrs. Distance 24nm rhumb. ICW Mile Marker 33.
We're following Kalunamoo, a ketch like Red Ranger, but much larger. This is their second trip down the ICW, so compared to us, they're very experienced old salts.
Following them, we tied to the bulkhead in South Mills, NC. We passed on the Dismal Swamp welcome center (a very popular place to tie up) because it didn't look like we could get Red Ranger onto the bulkhead without making a mess of another boat with our generous bowsprit. And Kalunamoo also gave it a miss, causing us to think they had a better plan.
Dinner is pasta with the tomatoes Joey gave us as a going-away present. Not a thick, goopy, boiled-all-day sauce, but a quick and dirty sauce with the fresh tomatoes.
|Depart||Started 36°50.63′N 076°17.51′W|
|Waypoint||Motored to 36°26.65′N 076°19.59′W|
Second day on the ICW. Another lock, a railroad swing bridge and another lift bridge. We're almost starting to understand how this works.
Motoring through the swamp in the Canal, Turner's Cut and then the Pasquotank River was amazing. An amazing jungle cruise in a Heart Of Darkness, African Queen, Apocalypse Now kind of way. We're motoring through more-or-less nowhere Virginia and North Carolina.
You come around the bend in the Pasquotank and there's a railroad swing bridge. Jungle. Railroad. Two miles further, there's a big old drawbridge right in the middle of Elizabeth City, NC.
Some cities are simply dismissive of cruisers. Others leave it to commercial interests to attempt to cater to cruisers. Both appear to be saying "It's not government's role to support transients and vagrants with perfectly good dock space" or some other unthinking nonsensical spew. There's a weird conservative viewpoint that leads governments to adopt a "don't get involved" as a policy. Idiocy.
Elizabeth City embraces the cruisers to a level that's remarkable. Free docks for 48 hours. A small cocktail party at 1630. Shameless pandering to the transients. We are spending money with the local businesses like sailors on shore leave to repay the city's generosity.
We followed our mentor boat to the Town Park bulkhead and tied up there. We are right next to Summer Wind, a Brewer 44. That makes her a sort of "cousin" to our Whitby 42.
Started 36°26.65′N 076°19.59′W
Motored to 36°17.85′N 076°13.07′W
Time: 4 hrs. Distance 10nm rhumb. ICW Mile Marker 50.
Weather (as of 15:46)
TONIGHT SW WINDS 5 TO 10 KT. WAVES 1 FT. WED SW WINDS 5 TO 10 KT. WAVES 1 FT. WED NIGHT SW WINDS 5 KT. WAVES 1 FT. THU NW WINDS 5 KT...BECOMING NE IN THE AFTERNOON. WAVES 1 FT.
We could leave Wednesday and motor 7 hours (50 miles) to the headwaters of the Alligator River.
Or we could leave Thursday and sail the 15 mile stretch of the Albemarle Sound and perhaps be forced to drop the hook near Mile Marker 80 if we couldn't keep our boat speed up in the light airs. This is only a 30 mile run, somewhat less stressful. And it would be followed by an easy 20 mile run to mile marker 100.
It doesn't actually seem to matter much, both seem to be sensible. We're only limited because we can't enter Florida before November 1st. Insurance won't cover us for cheap if we're in Florida in hurricane season.
Dinner was beans and rice with some of the fresh tomatoes.
|Depart||Started 36°26.65′N 076°19.59′W|
|Waypoint||Motored to 36°17.85′N 076°13.07′W|
While Elizabeth City is lovely, the bulkhead in front of the park is less than desirable. We could have moved to Mariner's Wharf and spent a few more days. But. The AM weather was fair for an easy motor across the legendary Albemarle Sound.
The prediction was SW winds 5-10 knots, waves to 1 foot. Pretty calm.
We have to travel essentially due S from the mouth of the Pasquotank; wind 45 degrees off the bow is potentially something we can sail into.
Rather than hang around Elizabeth City, we decided to depart for the Alligator River.
The Albemarle Sound is shallow, but has a long E-W fetch. Some winds can build up very scary and destructive waves. When the wind pipes up over 35, they can't move the swing bridge in the Alligator River. This makes boaters very unhappy.
We, however, had delightful, beautiful, perfect sailing weather. So we put up some sails and poked along in winds about 4 knots. After a half hour, we raised our Mizzen Stays'l and picked up the pace by a knot or two.
I finally figured out one more secret to rigging the darn thing. There's a snatch block that goes on the forward-most loop on the genoa track; this uses a long pendant that's cleated to the midship cleats on the track.
The "sheet" is simply cleated to the mizzen boom.
Even with those epiphanies, I sill rigged the sail outboard and ahead of the main. This picture still isn't right. The snatch block (and pendant) need to be on the weather toe rail, not lee.
After another half hour, we dropped the mizzen stays'l because the wind had perked up to the 10-15 range. Too much for that light-air sail.
CA says: "This was what we signed up for."
We sailed along on flat seas and steady breezes from 1030 or so to about 1300 when the wind started to die. By 1514, it had died away to almost nothing.
The entrance to the Alligator River is one of the Cruiser's Net ICW Problem Areas. Specifically, this: "More recently, the latest edition of chart 11553, as of 10/8/12, shows the infamous magenta line passing west of newly installed marker #8A. DO NOT follow the magenta line, through this stretch, as is often the case along the AICW."
Our Waterway Guide emphasized this. The meetup at Elizabeth City emphasized this. Other cruisers emphasized this. It's not rocket science to follow the marks. I can see how someone would simply program their autopilot to follow the Magenta Line and run smack into shoals.
Started 36°17.85′N 076°13.07′W
Motored and Sailed to 35°56.13′N 075°56.36′W
Time: 3 hrs engine, 5 hrs. sailing. Distance 26 nm rhumb. ICW Mile Marker 80.
Weather (as of 1517)
Tonight: SW winds 5 to 10 kt. Waves 1 ft. Thu: W winds 5 to 10 kt...becoming NE in the afternoon. Waves 1 ft.
Looks like a calm night, if we're lucky.
Tomorrow, we'll just run down to mile 101 at the head of the Alligator River or maybe to mile 130 at the head of the Pungo river. We think we can get to Bellhaven, NC, by Friday night. We'll see if the postmaster will hold mail for us there.
Dinner was fried rice with peppers and cabbage and carrots mixed in.
|Depart||Started 36°17.85′N 076°13.07′W|
|Waypoint||Motored and Sailed to 35°56.13′N 075°56.36′W|
We made a short trip up the Alligator river from the relatively exposed anchorage near Durant Island, to a very secure anchorage behind Newport News Point. It's not only secure, it's also isolated: No Cell Coverage. None.
It's the Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge. Wolves don't need cell coverage.
An hour or so after we dropped the hook, Beyond the Sea pulls into this little cove and drops the hook. We met them Tuesday when they tied up just in front of us in Elizabeth City. They ran the whole way from Elizabeth City to here in one day, arriving two-ish. If they got underway at first light, they did the 67 mile trip in about seven hours; a blistering pace by Red Ranger's standards.
And that was about it for the day. Lunch. Little puttering chores. Dinner.
One big issue is the distinction between bulk stores, and usable stores. A multiple-pound container of pasta, for example, isn't appropriate for making dinner. A small container with a few handfulls of pasta is more useful.
CA is tearing apart the galley stores and restowing them to make things useful and accessible.
Started 35°56.13′N 075°56.36′W
Motored to 35°40.41′N 076°03.36′W
Time: 4 hrs. Distance 17 nm rhumb. ICW Mile Marker 102.
Glorious sunset on this little bay behind Newport News Point.
Dinner: Mac and Cheese plus bread pudding. (The bread had started to go moldy, so bread pudding is a way to avoid wasting it.)
Weather for Friday is not too bad. We will be bound for Bellhaven, NC, going a little further up the Alligator River, through a long canal, and down the Pungo River.
Saturday and Sunday's weather, however, seems to involve "Tropical Storm Conditions", according to NOAA weather radio. We'll avoid dipping down into the wide Pamlico River until this weather has passed us. We'll spend a few days at Bellhaven, and press on Monday, I think.
We might be able to make a dash across the river and hope for a good spot in Goose Creek. Skipper Bob's book provides a glowing description of Bellhaven. ("Free Wi-Fi"), which makes Goose Creek less inviting. Also, motoring in the high winds and rain predicted for Saturday is unappealing.
|Depart||Started 35°56.13′N 075°56.36′W|
|Waypoint||Motored to 35°40.41′N 076°03.36′W|
Motored from the Alligator through the Alligator-Pungo Canal to the Pungo.
Scenic. Wilderness. It's the Picosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuge. What did we expect?
Two abandoned swing bridges are part of today's run. A good thing to see.
Interestingly, once of the replacement bridges is only 64 high, where the Army Corps of Engineers standard for the ICW is 65 feet.
We've holed up for the weather associated with a cold front and Hurricane Sandy. The projected track takes the hurricane right up the Chesapeake. We're anchored at the outer edge of Sandy's predicted positions on Monday and Tuesday of next week.
That means we're stuck here for up to four days. In the worst case.
We've got food. We've got four anchors. We're a half mile from a small marina. We topped off the diesel yesterday. We've found free Wi-Fi. Until the gin runs out, I think we're in good shape.
We passed by Dowry Creek marina, a very popular stopping-off point. We're listening to the VHF to hear folks entering the marina. Maybe that was a better choice than anchoring out.
CA has taken in all of our hardware that's stored on deck: cushions, fenders, dinghy oars, etc. We haven't lashed down the sails because we don't think we're going to see that much hellish wind. Also, we've left the bimini cover up until tomorrow.
In Larry and Lin Pardey's Storm Tactics Handbook, they note that mast steps make the wind howl and sound much more ominous than it is. It's blowing about 12 right now, but it sounds like 20.
We're 54 nm from the coast, up Pungo creek, off the Pungo river that feeds the Pamlico River. We're not exposed to much except winds that run ENE along this creek (060 magnetic.) Sadly, that is the exact direction predicted for Friday night and early Saturday. By late Saturday and Sunday, we're hoping for the winds to back to N and NW, so we'll get more shelter from the land.
We're five nautical miles from Pantego Creek, which has the town of Bellhaven and several marinas. We can relocate over there if Pungo Creek gets too bouncy. More likely, however, we'll pull over there to go shopping on Monday or Tuesday.
Our exact forecast: http://forecast.weather.gov/MapClick.php?lat=35.506&lon=-76.654.
Started 35°40.41′N 076°03.36′W
Motored to 35°30.34′N 076°39.22′W
Time: 5 hrs. Distance 31 nm rhumb. ICW Mile Marker 136.
Dinner: Fried rice with random veggies (peppers and cabbage and carrots, mostly) thrown in.
|Depart||Started 35°40.41′N 076°03.36′W|
|Waypoint||Motored to 35°30.34′N 076°39.22′W|
Anchored 35°30.34′N 076°39.22′W
A "Jammie Play Day" watching Hurricane/Tropical Storm Sandy develop offshore. We puttered around the boat and watched the wind build.
CA did some sewing and cooking. And anchor watching.
I (finally) connected the Standard Horizon CP300i Chart Plotter to the Standard Horizon GX2150 Radio. The chart plotter provides GPS data to the radio. The radio provides AIS information to the chart plotter. This is the minimal setup, and it now shows AIS-enabled traffic. This gives us a detailed notification on all commercial shipping that is likely to approach with 3 nm of us, and also any AIS-using private boats, also.
Winds overnight were loud. 30 knot winds are noisy.
|Arrive||Anchored 35°30.34′N 076°39.22′W|
This morning, it was clear that our anchor was dragging. It was dragging slowly, but it was dragging.
Our Anchor Alarm app on the iPhone shows distance from the marked position. We wanted to be at 35°30.34′N 076°39.22′W, but we'd slipped 250 feet from there. Not far, but far enough to prove that we weren't holding well.
Foolishly, I'd dropped the hook on the south side of Pungo Creek to try and escape the ENE wind. This put us on a lee shore when the wind backed into the N.
When CA pulled up the anchor, it had a root snagged on it. Not a good thing. Was that all that was holding us? Or was that side of the creek foul with stumps? Would we have trouble bringing the anchor on Tuesday up because it had fouled a stump?
We dropped the anchor on the N side of the creek. The land is low around here, so there's no real shelter; we're just further from the lee shore.
Moved to 35°30.50′N 076°39.30′W
Reading. Listening to NOAA All Hazards Weather Radio. Really bad AT&T reception on this side of the creek. Maybe we'll watch some movies. We have a few, plus a lot of TV seasons.
Time: one hour to charge batteries and reset the anchor.
|Depart||Anchored 35°30.34′N 076°39.22′W|
|Arrive||Moved to 35°30.50′N 076°39.30′W|
Engine Hours: 25. Diesel Gallons: 35. ICW Miles: 136.